Living With An Audience

30 03 2018

A VP at Facebook sent an internal memo to the company explaining the ugly side of growth tactics. Here’s an excerpt:

The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work.

What is the result of connecting people? Political action? Taking down the man? Giving a voice to the downtrodden? Maybe. I suspect, though, that the most common result of connecting people in wealthy, bored countries like ours, is to provide an audience for our insipid selfie lifestyles.

Facebook is touted as a communication revolutionary because it provides a different way for people to communicate with one another. We can post things on the Internet and people can wander by and look, much like the community message boards in public areas where people post advertisements for guitar lessons, rooms to let, and drum circle life-force yogic chanting.

Communication is great when the communicator is great, which is rare indeed. The best communicators make us want to buy tickets to go and see them speak. The worst communicators grab a bullhorn and shriek at anyone walking by. I suspect Facebook is full of a lot more bullhorn shriekers and far fewer real communicators. But mostly it’s full of ordinary people with ordinary lives who thrill at the idea of an audience, like the Joe Average who suddenly finds himself at the center of a media storm and is both repelled and thrilled by the press trucks suddenly camped out on his front lawn.

I’m sure Facebook is an important tool for corralling the masses to important action, here and there, but I have supreme doubts that the majority of the people who are using it on a daily basis have any interest in anything other than striking a pose in front of the cameras. If the pose is enhanced by a canned political message (no pipelines!) that signals the bonafides of the poser, so much the better. Is that action? Is that “coming together”? Or is that just broadcast vanity at its worst?

Society as a whole… nope, not going there.

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